Henry Ary was born in 1802 to a Revolutionary War veteran in Providence, Rhode Island, and was most likely raised by his older sisters, Martha and Hannah. There is no record of Ary’s apprenticeship or education in Providence and it is not clear precisely when he left Rhode Island for Albany, New York. The Albany Directory notes that in 1831 or 1832 Ary maintained a studio on State Street where he established his reputation as a portrait painter. A year later Ary moved to Catskill, New York, where he was introduced to Thomas Cole, the leader of the Hudson River School, and took lessons from him. The poetic manner of Ary’s landscapes, with their clusters of foliage, pastoral details, and inconspicuous figures are reminiscent of Cole’s allegorical panoramas.
Around 1844 Ary moved to Hudson, New York, where he spent the rest of his career working in the portrait and landscape genres. While in Hudson, Ary established a friendship with landscape painter Sanford Robinson Gifford. Gifford and Ary went on a sketching trip to the Catskill Mountains and Schoharie County in the summer of 1849. They translated their sketches and small oil paintings into larger canvases during the winter, which were exhibited together at the American Art-Union the following year.
Although Ary found a market for his landscapes through the National Academy of Design and the American Art-Union, he regularly advertised himself in the local newspapers as a portrait and decorative painter to supplement his earnings. In 1853 Ary formed the Hudson Art Association with a group of citizens who served as shareholders of his paintings. His landscapes were given to the board members and were exhibited annually at W. W. Hannah’s Jewelry Store—a resourceful approach to tackling an economic problem. Shortly after finishing a portrait of George Washington commissioned by the Hudson City Hall in 1858, Ary died of a prolonged illness. His work is included in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Albany Institute of History and Art, New York.